Africa’s major title will test players


The South African flavor to the Nedbank Challenge Golf Tournament at Sun City may have been watered down this year, but it is still strong enough to make connoisseurs take note of the game.

Six SA players find themselves in the Pilanesberg gambling city’s selection field of a total of 66 players who will battle it out from Thursday to Sunday to reap Africa’s major title.

Branden Grace, Thriston Lawrence, Ockie Strydom and Zander Lombard are the four SA stars who are part of this week’s glamorous spectacle, which will be decided on the famous Gary Player course.

The Gary Player course was first tested by five world stars in 1981 and today – more than 40 years later – still offers a tough challenge for the world’s best players.

The whirlwinds blowing across the course, the narrow fairways, challenging fairways and lightning-fast greens easily force players to their knees in the scorching heat that plagues them every year.

According to the weather forecast, the players will be welcomed by a temperature of 29 °C on the first day, after which the mercury will rise to 35 °C on Sunday and will properly test the participants’ fitness.

The sweltering temperatures could be to the advantage of the local players. They often play in such grueling heat and therefore know what lies ahead. Grace, Lawrence, Strydom and Lombard are skilled and seasoned money players who compete all over the world. All four also know the Sun City course very well and know what it takes to tame the Gary Player layout.

Grace won the prestigious Nedbank title in 2017 and would like to lift the crystal golf ball trophy a second time.

There is no reason why he cannot accomplish this.

He performed solidly in the LIV series this year and is a fighter who is always well prepared for the battle that awaits him.

Grace’s performances always depend on how well her set iron behaves. The Buffalo Bayer will therefore keep his fingers crossed that his iron is hot this week and keep him on track in his quest for glory at the Sun City.

Lawrence and Strydom are proven multiple winners of the DP World Series, so the moment will certainly not be too big for them.

As for Lombard, the 28-year-old native of Pretoria has never backed down from a challenge.

In his first Nedbank appearance in 2019, he clearly displayed his talents when he put Ernie Els and Lee Westwood on the line and took the lead on the last day.

Lombard ended up finishing eighth, but showed he knows how to master the Gary Player circuit.

The nine-time Sunshine Series tournament winner is overmatched and ready to show his mettle this week.

“It’s nice to be back at Sun City. I have a lot of support from family and friends here and am burning to do well.

“I learned a lot from the 2019 tournament and am a better and more mature player today than I was then.

“I am optimistic about my chances. I had a solid season and am ranked thirtieth.

“So my game is good and my head is in a good place,” Lombard said this week about the next few days’ challenge ahead.

The South African players will have to be at their very best if one of them wants to be crowned the champion on Sunday.

Six of the European series’ current top ten are in the field, as well as six players who were in action in the Ryder Cup tournament in Italy just over a month ago.

The Yanks’ two Ryder Cup players, Justin Thomas and Max Homa, will soon be the favorites because of their performance lists.

However, the Sun City track has never treated newcomers well and the Yanks haven’t had enough time to learn where all the potholes are.

Thomas and Homa were also on a safari in the country last week, so they didn’t exactly sharpen their game. On Sunday, they might just wish they had prepared a little better.

Last year’s champion, the beloved Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, will soon be the real favorite and player to beat.

Fleetwood is aiming for a hat-trick of victories and said last week that this year was possibly his most consistent year yet.

“I play well and am happy with my level of play, even though I last played a month ago.

“All that is needed to make 2023 a truly great year is a victory,” said the man who clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe.

Celebrities such as the Pole Adrian Meronk, the stocky New Zealander Ryan Fox, the Scot Robert Macintyre, the Englishman Justin Rose and the Dane Nicolai Hojgaard are all quality players who would like to taste success on South African soil.

So there appear to be many players who have the talents to finish at the top of the leaderboard.

However, the ultimate winner will be the player who best handles and survives the Sun City’s predicted scorching heat this week.

The first players tee off at 09:20 on Thursday with the last three-ball starting their attack at 11:10.

  • The report was amended after it was initially published. – Ed.